Gakenke coming to terms with the wrath of weather

Rainstorms wreaked havoc on several parts of the country, last week, with floods blocking major highways and causing deadly landslides in many regions. With scores of lives lost and infrastructure ruined, authorities had to swing into immediate action to avert further crisis as well as ensure quick rehabilitation on blocked roads.
People clear muck from a road in Gakenke. (Teddy Kamanzi)
People clear muck from a road in Gakenke. (Teddy Kamanzi)

Rainstorms wreaked havoc on several parts of the country, last week, with floods blocking major highways and causing deadly landslides in many regions. With scores of lives lost and infrastructure ruined, authorities had to swing into immediate action to avert further crisis as well as ensure quick rehabilitation on blocked roads.

Gakenke District in Northern Province was worst hit by the disasters, with more than 35 lives lost in the district -- including a landslide that claimed an entire family. The land slide also damaged houses, killed livestock and destroyed food crops in farmlands.

In the immediate aftermath, on the way to Gakenke, debris of rocks and chunks of mud could be seen strewn about, with tractors desperately trying to clear the slippery roads. Electricity wires hang in the road or in trees. Some electric poles lay in the middle of the road.

The drive up the district headquarters where a burial ceremony for the 35 people killed was almost as excruciating as being operated on without anaesthesia. The clouds hang gloomily like they were ready to unleash another round of wrath. A double gloom considering that somber atmosphere at the funeral. 

Wails could be heard from a distance, the young and the old all looked like the world had closed in on them. Residents gave terrifying testimonies of survival as they tried to rescue family and relatives. 

“It was terrifying,” said Pascal Shumbusho, a 41-year-old farmer. A landslide had tore through his home and killed many of his friends. 

“When I heard the rain, I went out to make sure the kraal was well locked because sometime the winds are too strong that it ends up opening the gate. It was dark and I heard screams,” he says.

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A grader clears the road. (Teddy Kamanzi)

Further up the hills, Shumbusho saw his neighbour carrying his children, running as fast as he could. He abandoned the animals, ran back into the house to pick his two sons and wife. Luckily, they made it to safety. But not his crops, livestock and house.

However, Sylvere Ngendahayo, a pastor with an ADEPR church in the area, was not all that lucky. Ngendahayo, whose wife was a choir member in the same church, lost four children in the tragedy. According to the church pastor who presided over part of the requiem, he had spent the whole day and night in prayers only to be told that his family had perished. 

His only surviving child was still recovering at hospital.

Then the tale of a mother who held on to her newborn to ensure his survival. Juliane Ayinkamiye heard a shocking noise when the hill above her home collapsed with such a thunderous sound that she says she’ll never forget the shock and terror that gripped her.

“At first, it sounded like a big mountain was falling down, the house started shaking and collapsing in bits. That is when I saw a huge chunk of mud heading towards my shaking house. I grabbed my child and ran for dear life,” Ayinkamiye said.

“I was intoning, ‘Please, God save us.” 

Ayinkamiye said it was pitch-dark, with gusts of strong and violent winds threatening to toss away even adult humans. “I was terrified and running to nowhere. At some point, I fell down, got trapped and started screaming for help,” she said.

“I was so scared and thought that we were going to die but a neighbour heard me scream and came to my rescue. I was weak and couldn’t run, so he took the baby with him and ran to safety. I lost my relatives in the landslides and my mother who is over 80 years is injured after half of the house collapsed before she had escaped.”

Although despair and agony is all they can see, the residents haven’t given up hope. They mourned, buried their loved ones and are determined to rebuild their lives. As Government and partners provide basic aid such as food and shelter, the residents have vowed to rebuild their lives.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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